Laser engravers are used to create detailed designs in the surface of nearly any material. These images have extremely high resolution and can have very fine features. One of the fastest growing uses has been to create keepsakes by engraving photographs onto durable surfaces like stone tiles.
For all of the versatility of the laser, different materials react in different ways to the engraving process.
Wood and Paper
One of the first uses of laser engraver machine was to burn designs into wooden surfaces. The wood burns easily so can be engraved by low-wattage lasers. Hardwoods such as oak or mahogany work best. Softer woods can produce inconsistent etching depths and have been known to actually ignite during the etching. Use of the lowest wattage lasers is recommended for these projects.
Fiberboard and hard paper work very well with laser engraving. Linty papers and newsprint tend to respond like soft woods.
Acrylic is one of the most common plastics used with laser engravers. It holds the etch well and produces a breathtaking finished piece. Other successful plastics include Bakelite and similar hard plastics.
Softer plastics, such as styrene, tend to melt around the engraving producing a softer or even deformed look. This might be acceptable or even desired depending on the purpose of the engraving.
Special plastics have been developed specifically for laser engraving. These may include silicates to help keep the heat of the laser from melting excess material, or may be layered so that etching away the surface reveals colored layers below.
Many plastics such as vinyl or silicones simply don't work with laser engraving and require other methods.